Have you ever lost your sense of smell? I have, but it had some advantages and disadvantages.

While I was going to nursing school back in the “60’s, I worked as a nursing assistant in a hospital. I will never forget one evening when a patient vomited unexpectantly. Remembering one of my nursing lectures, I measured the amount of the fluid and made note of its consistency. I then went and informed the charge nurse. “That’s good information, but what did it smell like?” She said. At that point, I nearly vomited thinking about the odor. The nurse laughed and said “You are so clinical; I couldn’t resist putting you on.”

I was a dialysis nurse for twenty-five years. Back in the ‘70s, formaldehyde was used to clean the dialysis machines. Open bottles of it were attached to the machines and run through them. If one of those open bottles got tipped over, the odor would clear the room. Since formaldehyde is a carcinogen, we started using bleach instead of formaldehyde in the early ‘80s. We also used a 10% bleach solution to clean the chairs, overbed tables and other equipment in the unit. (The corona virus would not have stood a chance in a dialysis unit. But please don’t drink bleach.) Coming in contact with these strong solutions caused me to lose my sense of smell for a while.

The sense of smell is called olfaction. The ability to smell comes from specialized sensory cells, called olfactory sensory neurons, which are found in a small patch of tissue high inside the nose. An inability to smell is called anosmia. A process that involves the cells of your tongue and nasal passages causes the smell of food to affect taste. The conjunction of the senses of smell and taste allows your brain to define a food’s flavor. It is said that if you lose your sense of smell, food does not taste as good. In my case, that did not happen, but one of the technicians that I worked with who used formaldehyde longer than I did said it affected his taste buds. He was thin. I was not. The advantage I did have was that I could not smell foul bodily fluids as I worked with patients. When other nurses could not deal with an infected, draining wound, I could change the dressing without a problem. So, of course, I got to do them all. To this day, I am not sure if this was an advantage of disadvantage.

Too bad I didn’t have anosmia when I was a nursing assistant.

2 thoughts on “An Odiferous Story by June Hannay Kosier

  1. Part educational, part humorous—and the last line perfectly returns us to the beginning. Delightful, June!

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